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Another holiday season and another
Christmas Story show-fest!
A Christmas Story, the musical, this year is scheduled for NYC’s
Madison Square Garden Theater,
again starring, as Shep the creator and on-stage narrator,
(Who had played the father in the popular sitcom, “The Wonder Years,”
which was the unacknowledged inspiration of
Jean Shepherd’s style.)
I was invited to the musical’s opening on Broadway and the after-theater celebration. Despite some trepidation, I attended, and very much enjoyed it. It was wonderful to see that Shep/narrator was given a prominent part as the on-stage commentator for the action. The sets and musical numbers were good, and I applauded appreciatively.
The Cleveland Street museum dedicated to A CHRISTMAS STORY has various activities and more and more related items for sale. Among the new, ACS items, my son Evan found in a Long Island store, is a calendar (pardon the cropped scan):
Among the other Christmas Celebrations, Twisted Sister, a few years back, did their own version of Christmas songs for an enjoyable album, some of which is on YouTube. What one might imagine being tasteless, I found quite enjoyable. Followers of this blog may remember that Dee Snider,whom I interviewed for 3 hours in my Shep Shrine is a very enthusiastic Shep fan. He feels that some of his own style on his radio program is influenced by Shep’s radio style. (The following Dee-related commentary and images are totally unsolicited–eb)
Interestingly, Dee Snider, front man of the group, is, when out of stage gear, an articulate, delightful guy with some rather conservative attributes, including the decades he’s been married, and his traditional sense of Christmas.
Dee being interviewed in 2014 for his Christmas musical.
I was surprised to see that he’s created his own Christmas musical opening in Chicago this year and, he hopes, headed for NYC’s Broadway next year.
He describes the story line thus:
“A struggling heavy metal band who sells their soul
to the devil and
finds the magic of Christmas instead.”
Yes, Dee Snider has a positive Christmas spirit.
Recently a video game based on A Christmas Story emerged.
Oh me, oh my:
When I was a little kid my parents would wait till I was asleep before setting up our Christmas tree and arraying presents under it. I woke up to encounter Christmas morning just about the same as does Ralphie and Randy in that favorite movie we watch every year.
Christmas Eve morning: I just encountered (after many searches), an image of Dan Lauria’s poster on the theater facade showing him as Jean Shepherd–with the title! Read those immortal words! I first saw this as I stood on line waiting to see the opening performance of the ACS musical–it gave me great hope (soon to be justified) that Shep would get his rightful place in the production:
As a Shep enthusiast, my gratitude for this
recognition knows no bounds!
”Let’s say I have intimations that I’ll never make it—
because I’m on radio.” (Shep, in a 1960 Realist magazine interview.)
Nobody worth his salt is listening to the radio at this hour of the night. I can tell you that. And I can tell you this—nobody worth his salt is doing radio at this hour of the night. (Jean Shepherd on the radio, 8/22/1964)
HOW DO YOU GET TO BROADWAY?
Shepherd had his problems with other writer’s characterizations of people in plays (and with films and books, also). He felt that most of the plays he saw were unrealistic—they did not portray people as they really were. His own view was that people mostly live rather mundane lives, but that theater displays its characters doing very unusual things, and that the plots were not true to peoples’ lives.
Shepherd also very much wanted to get into live theatrical performance, even though, at the same time, he wanted to deliver his own words rather than those of another author. As he’d put it in 1960, he was less interested in “reading other guys’ lines” than in doing his own material. His friend Pete Wood remembers that around 1961 “He talked a lot about the fact that he was going to study to become an actor.” One might wonder if another factor was that his wife was the up-and-coming actress Lois Nettleton.
Village Voice Obie Awards dinner, 1959.
Shepherd with Lois Nettleton, who had won an award.
Anne Bancroft, far right,
“Greenwich Village Sunday,” 1960-61 short documentary.
Narrated by Shepherd from script by Stewart Wilensky.
Lois portrays a visitor to the Village.
One might also imagine that his desire to be on the stage had something to do with a perception that radio was losing its driving force to television, a medium he wanted to be a part of, but which he could not break into sufficiently. (Television represented a bigger audience, more celebrity, more money.) Remember that he claimed that Johnny Carson said to him, “Look, Shepherd, forever they’re going to think of you as a radio guy. You better get out of that damn medium.” (Jean Shepherd commenting on the Alan Colmes interview show, 1998.)
In addition he sometimes felt that he was too isolated in the radio studio and thus, did not have an audience with whom he could be in immediate contact. (This is undoubtedly why he enjoyed his Limelight and other live-before-an-audience performances, which were in front of devoted fans.)
Drawing by Herb Gardner Mephistopheles
Shep as “Destry”
In the late 1950s and into the early 60s Shep engaged with live theater, including several multi-person “revues,” for which he wrote his own material. In 1958 Smalltacular, and in his revue with Shel Silverstein, Herb Gardner, and Lois Nettleton, Look, Charlie. He was especially busy in 1961, playing Mephistopheles in A Banquet for the Moon; acting in The Voice of the Turtle, Destry Rides Again, and The Tender Trap. He featured in New Faces of 1962 (again his own material). He acted in 1963 previews of Arthur Kopit’s Asylum or What the Gentlemen Are Up To Not to Mention the Ladies, which Kopit closed “for rewriting” just before opening night. No subsequent theater work by Shep has been encountered. Fred Barzyk, his main PBS director/producer, quoted Shepherd as having said: “I’m an actor. I’m a good actor.”
LOIS NETTLETON ON ACTING
A letter she wrote indicating her preference for live theater:
In notes to me regarding my book, Lois had several comments, indicating Jean’s desire to act and his troubles accomplishing the feat. Note that Jean and Lois were together during the entire period during which he pursued acting. (Remember to click on the scans to enlarge them.) In a note about my book, she comments that Jean helped her develop a comic character for an unnamed play in which she performed. Lois also mentioned that before performances, in Jean’s dressing room she assisted him in getting ready.
Lois, in parts of each of the notes that follow, refers to aspects of Jean’s acting experience. They depict a sad, yet probably very true image of Shepherd’s frustration in a field that was in conflict with his improvisational nature. He had trouble memorizing the script. I include the entire note in each case because I hope that most people will find all of her words of interest. (I describe Lois’ notes in an objective manner, but writing about them, I am thrilled to have and to hold all of her hand-written comments she wrote for my benefit!)
In an interview with Doug McIntyre, January 2000,
(Just a few months after Shep’s death)
Lois commented that Jean’s improvisation
on radio was a higher art than acting:
“…acting is not shallow, it is an art with depth and all of that, but it seems almost–almost, less profound, less important than what he was doing. I mean I think what he was doing was so–it was unique and it was profound and it was real genius!”
As an enthusiast for almost all of Shepherd’s creative works, I nevertheless believe that his first years in New York City were the great expansion/blossoming of his artistic life. He seems to have been waiting for the moment when he could arrive in the city, which was famed for being the center of the country’s–and the world’s–creative life at that time. Describing its importance to him in two of his broadcasts, he said:
Three of them looked at me with one eye, and all three of them said, “If you go anywhere, man, the only one place to go–New York! I mean the Big Apple–that’s the big time!…I looked at the three guys and I said, “You’re right!” Ohhh.
I was in the East. The effete East. The East of golden promise. what was it that Thomas Wolfe used to call Manhattan? “The Enfabled Rock.” And I was here. I mean we’re all here. Do you realize how–how fortunate we are?….You have no idea what a terrible lure this place is to people who live outside of this place.
This is not to necessarily say that this was the height of his artistic achievement, but it certainly was a great time for him. A few years ago I made a chart noting what he had done in those first years. Think about it!:
(Click on images to enlarge)
–-NEW YORK TIMES, JUNE 3, 1961–
George S. Kaufman the playwright, director and producer
died yesterday of a heart attack at his home,
1035 Park Avenue. He was 71 years old.
Authoritative info is scarce as to what Shepherd did in his early days in New York City. He arrived some time in 1955.
Why and when did he come here? What was it like for him then? Circumstantial evidence based on one of his broadcasts suggests that it was an undeniable force that drew Shep as well as innumerable others to the the Big Apple, as it was considered the height of the artistic and creative world at that time in addition to tops in radio broadcasting. In one broadcast in which he says he was offered a radio job in Juneau, Alaska, three co-workers convince him that the place to go for radio is NYC.
In another broadcast he says, “I came to New York as a television performer and I worked in television for a long time before I got to town.” True, he did some TV work earlier. But he was a radio man. A special kind of radio man. Newspaper radio schedules show that he began New York broadcasting at WOR in 1955 in a variety of time slots, mostly daytime. (Not until January 1956 did he begin his overnight shows.)
Immediately upon notice of Kaufman’s death, in the broadcast of June 2, 1961 titled “George Kaufman,” Shepherd talks about how lonely and depressed he was when he first arrived, presumably in early 1955. Author and playwright George S. Kaufman had phoned him at WOR — an important moment for Shepherd. Shepherd discusses this experience–not in his “story” mode–as a part of his life, and I believe that he accurately describes it.
An internet site reports that Kaufman was born in Pittsburgh in 1889. That he won two Pulitzer Prizes for his collaborations in the theater, that he was best known for his sharp wit, his eye for social satire, and his ear for comic speech. That he worked with and befriended famous actors such as the Marx Brothers and authors such as John Steinbeck. No wonder that Shepherd was impressed and proud.
GEORGE S. KAUFMAN
JEAN P. SHEPHERD
Shep describes what happened. [Be advised that, to keep the post relatively concise and to concentrate on Shep’s appreciation of Kaufman, I’ve cut a number of minor side issues and little “He said”/”I said” bits from the original transcript] :
I arrived in this town a completely unidentifiable object. Most of us need identity to tell what’s good or bad….I was here about two weeks, maybe three weeks. I felt very depressed. I was in New York City and New York City is a very closed city, particularly in the field of theatrical entertainment. And especially in the field of humor.
If you’re not doing it on the stage of the Blue Angel you’re not funny. That’s all there is to it. If you’r not doing it on an LP with a crowd of idiots cheering you–you’re not funny.
I came on here and I was very lonely, and the people here at the station–they had no idea what I was doing. So this kind of entertainment was difficult. It was a new kind of thing. The engineers were looking at me blankly, because it didn’t fit into one of their categories. The program directors here were confused, and it was like I was speaking Sanskrit in a world where people spoke Pidgin English. I arrived a lonely figure here, believe me. I had come from an area where people did understand. I had been there long enough–they had listened carefully, you see. People in New York hardly ever do. New York is a much faster area. People have to understand something in thirty seconds–or whatever it is is nuts–“it’s no good–it’s a nut, why doesn’t he play the record?”
You can imagine the struggle I had. It’s not that my stuff is long–not at all. But what it really is, is that it takes a great deal of listening to understand the whole aura, the point that I’m making. It is a sprawling thing. And I agree, I understand this. Well, through a series of odd little circumstances, I did get on the air and it was on a Saturday afternoon.
I can’t tell you how depressed I was. I was extremely depressed because immediately after I would go off the air, hundreds of New Yorkers would call up. And New Yorkers, by the way are among the most intolerant people I’ve ever encountered, and they would be very indignant–“What is this–what is this nutty stuff on the air, what is all this going on here? What is this trivia stuff here? Get it off! Get the record on. Gimme the news, I want the news there.” And of course, this went on hour after hour. Well, the people here stuck with it.
Then one day.This was only about three weeks after I had been there. I was depressed. I was earning minus two-dollars a week. I came out of the studio and there was a phone call. And of course all of these irritating phone calls I had not been bothering with.
I picked up the phone because the guy said, “You better talk to this one,”
And there was a voice on the other end. Sort of a nasal voice. He said, “You know you’re one of the funniest men I’ve ever heard in thirty-five years of show business. Don’t go away.”
I said, “Who are you?”
“Well, doesn’t really matter.”
I said, “Well, thirty-five years in show business, who are you?”
“My name is Kaufman. And I called up to talk about your program and I want to meet you and I want to talk to you about something.”
Well, to make a long story short, it was George Kaufman. And Kaufman was a man of unusual courage. He was also a man who had, as far as I know, and in my contacts with him–which were necessarily brief–were–he had qualities which went beyond the problems most of us are constantly running into. Such things as rank, such things as the little idiotic, trivial things like–this is something that you don’t do.
Well, I was very depressed, and this was a tremendous shot in the arm, truly. And Kaufman said he had been listening for the last two weeks. He’d almost caught the first show!
He said, “Come on over.”
Well, I visited–I went to his apartment on Park Avenue, the one where he died, and I got upstairs where he lived. It was not sumptuous. it was a nice place, of course, very small, very compact, very unpretentious.
I walked in and he greeted me at the doorway. It was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.
He said, “I’m sure pleased to meet you. You know what, I’ll tell you something.” He said, “Come on in, come on in.” He was a very frail man and at that point his hair was almost completely white.
He said, “Would you like a drink?”
I said, “Yeah, yeah, fine.” I didn’t know what to say. This is George Kaufman, see, and I’m the bumpkin from Middle West.
He poured me some Scotch and we sat there. He said, “You know, I want to tell you something about your work.” And he talked about my work for about an hour-and-a-half.
He said, “You know what you’re doing is a kind of theater. It’s a different kind of theater.” And he said, “I’m sure that nobody’s going to know that. I think you’d better get into real theater. The theater that everyone understands, because they’ll understand it then.” He said, “I want to work with you.” He wanted to collaborate. I’m just telling you the straight story. He wanted to work on a piece that I had done on the air. He said, “We ought to make a play out of that.”
We had several meetings and unfortunately, just at that point he got into very bad health. He was really badly off. He would call me every couple of weeks and his voice got weaker and weaker, and he said, “I wish we could work, but I can’t. But I’ll get back.”
I met him several times after that, but there’s one thing you’ve got to remember. He was a listener. He really was one of us. Every night and every Saturday–he rarely went out–he would listen.
And one time he called me over. “You know who just got into town?”
I said “Who?”
He said, “Well, it’s a funny thing .” And he proceeded to tell me about one of the Marx brother’s wives. He said, “You know, she arrived into town here last night and she was a New Yorker, and the first thing she said was, ‘Is Shepherd still on the air?’ And she and I sat and we talked about things you’d done and she said she wants to meet you.”
So I went over there and shot the breeze with one of the Marx’s brothers wives and we talked for three or four hours and we discussed F. P. A. and all the other great people who had worked here in New York in humor in days before.
And the last time I saw Kaufman–and this was only about eight months ago. He was standing in the doorway and he said, “You know, I’m working on something . When I finish it, you and I are going to work together. We’re going to get working on this project.”
I picked up the Times and saw his picture–and I was very sad to find that he had died. A wonderful man. Somehow, a really important one. Not because of what his work was–because his work was good–but because of his attitude and his viewpoint.
From the New York Times obit:
Mr. Kaufman was an eccentric character. He was always hatless, his brushy pompadour untidy. He talked to himself and grimaced as he walked along the street. Detesting vegetables, he was said to subsist on meat, bread and chocolate peppermints.
Oh, what a piece of theater it would have been!
I’ve encountered that the 4th of the 5 parts of the NYC career chart does not enlarge when clicked on and is not sharp (at least on my computer), so it cannot be read. I’d done it exactly the same as the other parts! Here I re-do the whole operation–scan, import to blog media, and input it into this post. I trust it works now for those who want to read and maybe copy it:
Part 4 revise
And why not add the details of where the story parts of A CHRISTMAS STORY and Shepherd’s three long-form TV dramas originated (Most of the following info is derived from Jim Clavin’s http://www.flicklives.com) —
A CHRISTMAS STORY
The Red Ryder BB Gun– “Red Ryder Nails the Hammond Kid,” Playboy, 12/1965, then in IN GOD WE TRUST 1966 titled “Duel in the Snow or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid.”
Wax Teeth, Flick’s Tongue, Writing A Theme
The Leg Lamp– “My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art,” in IN GOD WE TRUST 1966. (See PHANTOM OF THE OPEN HEARTH below.)
“How Does the Little Piggy Eat?” — in “Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss” Playboy July 1968.
Little Orphan Annie Secret Circle Decoder–“The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message, or The Asp Strikes Again,” in IN GOD WE TRUST 1966.
Changing the Flat Tire – “Oh Fuuudddggge”
Blinded by Soap–“Lost at ‘C’ ” Playboy May 1973
Visiting Santa, The Bunny Pajamas,
The Bumpus Hounds–“The Grand Stand Passion Play of Delbert and the Bumpus Hounds,” Playboy 4/69, then in WANDA HICKEY’S NIGHT OF GOLDEN MEMORIES–AND OTHER DISASTERS 1971.
Christmas Dinner Chinese Style
PHANTOM OF THE OPEN HEARTH
(1976 television long-form drama)
Gravy Boat Riot–“Leopold Doppler and the Orpheum Gravy Boat Riot,” Playboy 10/65 then in IN GOD WE TRUST 1966.
Sears Pre-fab House
The Leg Lamp– “My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art,” in IN GOD WE TRUST 1966. (Major component of A CHRISTMAS STORY)
Going to the Prom With Wanda Hickey–“Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories” Playboy 6/69 then in WANDA HICKEY’S NIGHT OF GOLDEN MEMORIES–AND OTHER DISASTERS 1971.
Baseball for the United Brethern
GREAT AMERICAN FOURTH OF JULY AND OTHER DISASTERS
(1982 television long-form drama)
Wilbur Duckworth and His Magic Baton–Playboy 12/64“Waldo Grebb and His Electric Baton” and as “Wilber Duckworth and His Magic Baton” in IN GOD WE TRUST 1966.
The Blind Date–“The Endless Streetcar Ride into the Night, and the Tinfoil Noose” IN GOD WE TRUST 1966.
The Wash Rag Pyramid Scheme
Uncle Carl’s Fireworks Stand
The Old Man’s Fireworks Display
Ludlow Kissel and the Dago Bomb IN GOD WE TRUST 1966.
Fireworks on the roof of Roosevelt High
Sack races at the picnic
THE STAR-CROSSED ROMANCE OF JOSEPHINE COSNOWSKI
Going to a Polish Wedding–“The Star-crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski and Her Friendly Neighborhood Sex Maniac” Playboy 1970 and titled “The Star-crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski” in WANDA HICKEY’S NIGHT OF GOLDEN MEMORIES 1971.
Friendly Fred’s used car lot
Randy plays a turkey in the school Thanksgiving Day play
The boys eat at John’s hamburger joint
Scragging for Polish girls*
[*At least one story that never made it into a published Shepherd story he told on the air: On March 23, 1968 he told a tale of Scragging and Bolus’ wedding.] Scragging is what some male teenagers do in a car in summer–they drive by one or more attractive young girls and make adolescent remarks such as “Hey baby! Oh Wow! Holy Smokes!”]
Please report errors and omissions, including exact references if known. –eb
Jean Shepherd’s artistic career is far more elaborate and varied than most of us ever imagined. When I began working on my Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd in early 2000, I felt that, in order to comprehend the complexities, I had to visualize it all chronologically. This way I could more easily see how parts related to the whole. The long, horizontal chart I produced and printed out on several 11″ X 17″ paper sheets, was done in 2002, and served to assist me in “seeing” his career more clearly. In my personal reference copy of the published book, I have a small, taped-together, folded version glued to the inside back cover.
I had wanted this, plus a CD–a representative sampling of Shep’s radio bits–to be included in the book, but I was informed by the publisher that the cover price would have been raised too high.
CHART–Here it is in 5 parts to be visualized as a continuity.
These five images need to be visualized one after the other and butted against each other. The above is what I could do in the post. Remember that each can be enlarged by clicking on it one or even more than one time. In preview form, before being posted, they enlarged sufficiently for me to be able to read them.
Despite this having been designed and printed over a decade ago, nothing major, and only some minor additions would have been required to update it. (Some additional work in jazz is now known, and other information and material continue to appear.)
One of the aspects of Shepherd’s career that the chart confirmed
for me is that much of his original creative work
occurred in the earlier NYC years,
and that much of his later work
on television and in film consisted of
his re-working and re-creating his earlier material.
The major exceptions to this are his WOR radio broadcasting,
that continued until April, 1977, and the
two-part television series of
JEAN SHEPHERD’S AMERICA
(made in 1971 and 1985)
which I consider to be
a major, incomplete,
Here’s what I’m going to do intermittently for some opening
posts of the new year.
It’s a series charts I created a number of years ago
and also my thoughts about Shep’s work in
refutation of a couple of essays by others.
It’s sort of an interrelated gallimaufry.
Regarding my EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! THE ART AND ENIGMA OF JEAN SHEPHERD, on occasion I encounter a comment that indicates that the person is not sure how I organized it. Some might think it’s disorganized.
Others find the methods and organization I used in the book to be appropriate to the subject–I’d like to think they’re right, especially the reviewer who commented that the book seems inspired by Shepherd’s style itself (it was not consciously). The book does have a specific organization from beginning to end, and to clue the reader in, the last paragraph of each chapter indicates how the next chapter is a logical continuation of the theme. I also explain in the book that there is a very loose chronology of the PARTS (The formative years from childhood through early radio years; followed by what I call “The Great Burgeoning” in New York; followed at the end by the finale–a back-and-forth summing up of life and art). Interspersed between some of the chronology are THEMATIC CHAPTERS that describe and reflect on Shep’s various creative endeavors as these seem to emerge from the rough chronology.
While working this out, I made a chart to help show myself (and then interested others) how all this goes together. The chart was done in a rather large format for ease of viewing–one that could not be scanned or imported into this blog in one piece, so here it is in two pieces. The originals of all my charts were only meant to be printed out on paper–not miniaturized into a blog and viewed on a screen. Remember that one can click on images in the post to significantly enlarge them for ease of reading (I hope!).
I’ve put together a number of charts over the years to help me get a better sense of Shepherd’s life and work. I’ll be posting them one at a time over the next month or so.
Either through my ignorance or the inbuilt limitations of this blog program, I can’t control some visual aspects. So one has to see in one’s mind, the single, continuous artwork broken here into the two-part chart above. Obviously the relative scale of the two is slightly different as it was imported here, and can’t be reconciled. It’s impossible for me to position images just where I want them–the program just resists my attempts at subtle adjustments. In fact, as I draft the post, the two halves show side by side, not one over the other. The title with Shep’s name, obviously should continue on the same level.
The various charts I’ve made, first for my eyes alone and my pleasure, then available to help explain some material to others, were all done about a decade ago in the Adobe Illustrator program and printed out on a large-format Epson 11″ x 17″ -capable-printer. As I no longer have the printer, I rely on old print-outs to scan and awkwardly import them here.
Creating the charts and somehow managing to post them–
all other parts of my enjoyment of working on Shep projects.
I just opened this post as though I were an average viewer and found that although the first half of the chart, when clicked opens larger (It has a blue outline when cursor is over it), the second part does not–I don’t know why this might be–damn computers! To enlarge, copy this part and paste into a word processing document–one can then enlarge that. Very annoying having to attempt to outwit an electronic servant! –eb
A CHRISTMAS STORY—Facing the Music—
REVIEW BY EUGENE B. BERGMANN
I attended the Broadway opening of “A Christmas Story—The Musical” (November 19, 2012) with some trepidation. (Shep-heir Irwin Zwilling had given me the ticket and the invite to the after-event party at the “Lucky Strike Lanes”—a grand affair!) What would they do to Jean Shepherd and the movie? Not to worry—they did great!
On arrival I saw on the theater façade, along with a few other large, framed photos, one of Dan Lauria as Shepherd, and what does the caption to the photo say?
“The Jean Shepherd Show,
Home of the Greatest Stories Ever Told.”
Dan Lauria as Shep—this is NOT
The image in the theater’s poster.
Ah, yes! This definitely boded well for those of us Shep acolytes who feared that the musical would not sufficiently acknowledge our hero. The Playbill for the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, in its “CAST (in order of appearance) list Jean Shepherd (Dan Lauria), first.
After the short overture, with curtain still down, the prologue begins: “A street corner outside radio station WOR, New York City/the radio studio desk—Christmas Eve, several years ago.” There is Jean Shepherd who speaks to us, introducing the play. He is seated at a microphone that has on it “WOR,” and he indicates that he is telling the entire story of the musical at hand.
“Shepherd” appears very frequently as the person we in the audience see but the players in the story do not. He roves in and out among the people and the sets, observing the scene and making comments. This is all handled well, and is a great tribute to Shepherd, especially when you realize that the entire production could have negated his presence entirely—to its detriment. (In the movie, you hear his voice throughout, but, if you don’t know, or haven’t paid attention to the opening credits, you might not even realize that Shepherd is the omnipresent creator. In the musical, Lauria/Shep is present and accounted for.)
At the party afterward, Mr. Zwilling told me that Dan Lauria had asked him for help in realizing the Shepherd character. I didn’t have the opportunity to ask him in what way he assisted. I imagine that giving Lauria a lot of Shep audios of radio shows would have done it. (I subsequently read that Lauria said that he and his dad had listened to Shep when he was a kid.)
The musical follows the movie quite well, although not slavishly, diverting where it’s not important or where a visualization on stage might not be worth it. The sets are very good and flexible, in a well-orchestrated, stylized fashion, moving back and forth, up and down, as required to change the scene (indoors as in the house, and outside for the flick/flagpole scene, etc.). I enjoyed the way the sets performed and I enjoyed the script and acting a lot. The dance and other musical numbers were very entertaining—all you could ask for. The audience loved it all.
Highly worthwhile. All the professional reviewers (with a few who had
minor negative comments I don’t agree with) liked it too. WOW!
(The lights very slowly come on but remain somewhat dim. SHEPHERD is still seated in the chair with his back to the audience. Very slowly he gets up and leans with both hands on the table. The phone rings and he picks it up.)
SHEPHERD Hello. (He listens for about ten seconds.) Charlie, no more bad news. (He hangs up the phone wearily.) I’m getting old.
(He stands, and with a swipe of his hand knocks over the director’s chair. He looks at the maroon radio on the table face down, hesitates, then fondles it gently. He continues to look at it, then picks it up and places it right-side-up on the table to the right front. He goes to a pile of audio tapes on the floor and picks up a tall stack of them and puts them on the table. He pulls the tape player forward to the left front of the table. He looks around at the floor. Then he walks slowly toward the right wing and wheels his office chair back on stage and puts it centered in front of the table. He removes the jacket he had worn through Scene Three and tosses it onto the left end of the table. There is a wide black armband on his white shirt.)
SHEPHERD (Turns his head, looking back at the audience. Pause. He fingers the black armband.) It’s an old family tradition. Yes, Leigh’s gone. Leigh’s dead. You have no idea how much I love her. How much I need her. She was supposed to outlive me. (Pause, then he continues, almost uncomprehendingly.) I depended on her. (Turns completely around center stage front and bends forward at the waist.) Not a word to anyone, ya fatheads. Not a word—never!
Page in a guide book to
North American Birds
found in Jean and Leigh’s
house in Maine.
(He turns back to the table, sits on the desk chair facing the table and shuffles some of the tape boxes, chooses one and puts it on the machine. He flips on the play switch and walks to stage right, waiting for the audio, lowering his head a bit in anticipation.)
SHEPHERD ON TAPE (it is part of his broadcast from Scene Two.) I have a suspicion that these are the things that if somehow we could clear the decks—get rid of all the glop—and admit once, to ourselves, we’re not going to do it—and throw all this stuff out. We ought to have a Dream Collection Day.
SHEPHERD (Startled.) Oh shit no. Wrong tape. Not that. (He walks back toward the table, moving more slowly—it is an old man’s walk now.)
SHEPHERD ON TAPE (As he is moving toward the table.) You know how they have rag collection days, and old metal collection days? We ought to have a Dream Collection Day. (Annoyed, he turns off the tape. He sits again. Removes tape and puts on another.)
SHEPHERD Let’s try that again. (Turns on tape player. Turns around by swiveling the chair as he had in the beginning, facing the audience.)
SHEPHERD ON TAPE Just a philosophical question. I mean, who does who in—in life? Or—and this is the worst question of all to ask—Do you do yourself in?—Aaaaa? “Oh no, it can’t be! No, no, that’s ridiculous! No, no! It was society that did it to me! Rotten, crummy, evil society!”
SHEPHERD No! Where the hell did that come from? Le…! She was supposed to toss all that batch, damn it! (Stops tape and removes it.) She was a good wife. The best. And a darn good assistant, most of the time. (Pause.) She got such a kick out of being an extra—you know, in some of my films.
Lovely Arlita in “Phantom of the Open Hearth”
(He puts on another tape and pushes play.)
SHEPHERD ON TAPE Now all of this might seem to you to be a mélange of nothingness—but isn’t really a mélange of nothingness. Not at all. Because it is a mélange of our life, the existence we live. And if you’re going to be fulfilled, you’ve got to live your existence out. You’ve got to play out the string. It’s—it’s just the natural course of events.
SHEPHERD (Nods his head.) Yeah, that’s more like it. Listen to this. (He stops the tape and fast forwards. Then starts the tape again.)
SHEPHERD ON TAPE Something that bothers me is to find a man who—who will walk away from things which are going on because he doesn’t like them. This is—this is wrong—you should stand and look. You should watch this great crowd at the ball game, you should hear this guy hollering, “Come on, baby, hang in there!” This is all part of it, you know. You should go to the snake chucking. And—and—just stand off and look. And if you do stand off and look enough you’ll begin to have this great love of it all, which is an undeniable thing.
SHEPHERD Now we’re getting it. More, give me more! Remember this one? Of course you do. (He quotes from himself.) I mean, I sit here looking at the raisins and I sit here looking at the dried apricots, I sit here looking at the vast, steaming, bubbling, hissing cauldron, the fruitcake of life, and I realize—I realize I’ve hardly scratched the surface…. (He fast forwards and starts the tape again. He is looking down, contemplating.)
SHEPHERD ON TAPE How can I say it? How can I say it? How can I say it? You know, when you’ve said it all. You still haven’t said any of it. You really haven’t, you know. You try to get it out—you try. I’m looking out, and I see a white ship way off in the distance, trailing a long black streamer of smoke. And I see a white cloud and gray gulls. I can hear that wind beating down from the north. There’s a kind of coolness in the air. There’s always a coolness in the air in summer that says one day it’s going to be winter. It’s going to be winter. And in winter there’s always a softness you can find that says it’s going to be summer. And so it shall be.
SHEPHERD (He stops the tape.) And so it shall be. Yes. (He starts the tape again. He stands, turns and glances up at the audience. He remains looking at them.)
SHEPHERD ON TAPE I’m standing there, and I’m trying to figure out how to say it to you. I can’t. Never can. I guess that’s the final frustration. That nobody ever can say all of it to somebody else. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you want. And in fact, I think that the more you want to say it, the less likely and the less able you are to do it. I’m standing there, and that ship finally just disappears. Hear it? Did you get?—listen. Listen—you hear it? I’ve been trying to say it. What I have been trying to say all along. Yeah. There’s not much time left. But you’ve got to hear it. You’ve got to be able to hear it. I guess you can’t. I guess everybody hears what he is hearing. Nobody else can hear it. Did you hear that? Oh yeah. You know, it’s going to be summer soon. Yes. Yes.
SHEPHERD (He turns back and stops the tape. He sits facing the desk, elbows on the desk, with forearms raised. He bends his head down, resting it in his two hands over the desk. After a long pause he speaks very slowly, wearily.) It’s over. All over. Lost and there’s nothing to be done about it. I lose. (He puts his hand over the black armband and rubs it gently up and down.) Leigh baby, where are you? Leigh?
(The general lighting dims slowly, almost out, remaining that way as he slowly grasps his head in two hands. Then the overhead spotlight comes slowly on until it is very bright on him. After a few moments he slowly rises like an awakening giant. He pushes back the chair and climbs onto the table, picking up the signs he had cut down earlier. He turns around to face the audience. He looks at each of the signs and places each back flat on the table. As he stands back up he accidentally knocks into the four-sided sign with the scene titles on it.
SHEPHERD Goddamnit! What fool?!
(He looks at the sign box, then, ducking, steps inside the openwork box. He lifts the last sign out—DREAM COLLECTION DAY— and, handling it slowly so the audience can read it, tosses it to the floor dismissively. It makes a loud, clattering sound as it hits, then he does the same with I’M AN ENTERTAINER, and THE MONEY BUTTON, each clattering loudly. When he lifts HIGH ON A MOUNTAINTOP, he contemplates it for a long time, then, bending over, places it upright against the maroon radio so the audience can still read it.
The “Boodle-Am” music begins at very low volume and, standing now, still on the table inside the now empty openwork box, he tilts his head, listening. The music fades slowly out and he looks back at the audience. He takes a deep breath. The openwork box rises slowly out of sight.)
SHEPHERD (He looks down, encompassing the entire audience, talking to them in a conversational tone.) Don’t you ever feel the desire once in a while to run away into an esoteric world? Yeah. (He cocks his head as if he has heard an audience response.) No, no—no, no, no. Everybody says, “Just run away.” That’s no good, because the devils and your illusions pursue you to the ends of the earth. And—yeah, they nip and yell at you and bite at your elbows. Oh yeah, you just can’t run away from them because they’re—now don’t get me into this philosophical concept—they are you. Did you ever try to run away from your own shadow? (He stares into the audience for a few moments.) Man back there nods his head yes. (Pause.) Well, have you ever succeeded in doing it? Let me tell you about the cartoon one time I saw as a kid. I don’t know whether any of you ever saw this one but it haunted me—for years. It still does.
(SHEPHERD becomes more energetic, moving back and forth along the table top, very engaged in explaining all this to the audience.)
SHEPHERD I’m this kid, see, and there was a nutty cartoon series that used to show up in the movies—where a guy would open up an inkwell, and you’d see this big hand and it would start drawing.Koko the Clown
Well I’m sitting there and I’m watching—on came the cartoon (He half-sings the following quickly, imitating the cartoon’s music.) Rica tica ta ta rica tica ta ta wa wa rica tica tica ta ta ta. And the name of the cartoon was something like, “Me and My Shadow and Me—Whoopy.” And you see the big drawing board and the hand starts to go. (He moves his hand in front of him as though pen in hand, quickly drawing, concentrating on the imaginary drawing board as he whistles quick little notes as he draws.) It’s drawing (Whistles, draws.) and it draws one of those little cartoon clowns. (Whistles, draws.) He draws a little cartoon hat on him. (Whistles, draws.) And then, there’s a little clown—a creature. And the creature looks out at him.
(SHEPHERD cocks his head and looks up with a silly creature-like smile. Whenever the creature speaks, it is in a funny, high-pitched voice and a silly smile.)
SHEPHERD (In high-pitched voice.) “Hey whoopy. How are you?” (Then normal voice.) And he waves at him. (Whistles.) And the little creature looks around and he starts to go, and all of a sudden the guy, the voice—the man’s voice who’s drawing says (Man’s voice is a bit authoritarian, but friendly, as though speaking to a small child.), “Wait a minute. Just a minute.” The little creature looks up and says, “What do you want?” Says, “Wait a minute. Here. I haven’t drawn your shadow yet.” “Oh, oh. Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah, okay doc.” So he goes (Whistles, draws.) He’s sketching in this black shadow, see (Whistles, draws.) He says, “Okay, there you are.” And you see the shadow there, see, back of him. He says, “Okay, there you go. Good luck, bye bye.”
(SHEPHERD acts as though he is the artist, smiles approvingly at his work, folding his hands in front of himself for a few moments, contented.)
SHEPHERD And the little thing goes (Whistles.) Starts to walk off, says, “So long, doc.” Starts to walk off the page but his shadow doesn’t go! He walks to the edge of the page (Mimicking the creature, he walks to the edge of the table and continues acting the creature’s part here with exaggerated cartoon-like movements.) And suddenly he realizes, see, he comes back and he makes a grab for the shadow. He’s going to hook it on the back of him. He grabs for the shadow, pulls it towards him like a rug, you see. But the shadow goes Woop! Right out of his hand—tica tica tica tica and runs off and down the page (SHEPHERD uses his fingers to indicate the quick scurrying back and forth of the shadow.) and the entire scene resolves itself into the problem of this thing chasing all the way through the streets and up and down over rooftops yelling and hollering with the cats and the dogs after him. He is chasing his shadow. And then once in a while the shadow gets away from him and hides behind the chimbly, as we said in Hammond, Indiana—it’s a kid thing. Hide behind this chimbly, see. And this guy’s looking around. (Creature voice and smile.) “I guess I lost it! What good is anybody when they don’t have a shadow?! Where’s my…” And he starts looking down the street (He goes to one edge of the table and, raising his hand shielding his eyes, searches out into the audience, looking back and forth) and this little thing would look out. (He now peers out, imitating the shadow, makes rings with both thumbs and forefingers around his eyes.) You see these two little eyes, see. The shadow has eyes looking out “Heh heh,” (Said in a cartoon-sinister voice.) The shadow laughs and then suddenly the shadow starts running behind him making all kinds of wild scenes behind him, that are not at all his shadow!
(SHEPHERD in the following, imitates the monster gorilla and the creature with appropriate, exaggerated movements and voices.)
SHEPHERD Like there would be a shadow of a gorilla walking! “Huh! Huh!” behind this little guy! And he’s walking down the street and he walks past a lot of people standing around—just little rabbits and elves and stuff—whatever it is that lives in cartoonworld, you know. And they see this shadow of this monstrous gorilla! “Huh! Huh! Huh!” And there’s this little tiny squirt walking in front of the shadow! And there’s “Ah! Whoh!” (Amazed voices of cartoonworld creatures.) And they can’t figure out whether the gorilla is real, or whether this guy is inside of him a genuine gorilla! Fantastic monster! And they’re all running. They’re scared of him! And he looks and all of a sudden he feels real big—he’s caught up in the illusion. “Oh boy!” you know. He says, “Alright, alright you guys, don’t—don’t hang around. I’ll fight—I’ll fight you!” And then, as they turn around to look it’s no longer a shadow of a gorilla behind him, it’s a shadow of a tiny thing! It’s a little tiny shadow. (He slows down, sad, as he continues.) Smaller than he ever thought it would ever be. (He laughs a nasty, hostile laugh.)
(SHEPHERD smiles a big sheepish grin.)
SHEPHERD I used to tell lots of stories about my kid-hood. (He shakes his index finger at the audience like a pedant giving a lesson.) Be careful about the shadow you’re casting. Shadows and illusions. (Pause.) Speaking of shadows and illusions, (he grasps an imaginary microphone out of the air and speaks into his thumb,) this is WOR, a mere shadow of its former self. (He holds the imaginary microphone at arm’s length and stares at it, gives a big silly grin, and casually tosses it back over his shoulder.) Very instructive cartoon. Remember, I’m a kid—about six months after that I was extremely conscious of my shadow. And I would try to run away from it once in a while, you know. But I never could quite make that, and then on top of it sometimes the shadow would disappear completely like you’re casting no shadow at all. And then I would have that same naked feeling that the crea…. (Creature voice.) “Hey, help me, doc. My shadow’s gone.” (Laughs.) I’d look behind the tree—see if I could find it. Pause.) The problem of the shadow. It’s difficult for us to know whether we are the shadow or the shadow is us. (Pause.) And I remember this old radio show used to open up (In a deep, slow, hollow voice.) “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” Now here was an ancient, creaky radio show. There is not one, single rinky dink television show—or one half-baked movie with a thirty-million-dollar budget that comes out with even a sliver of wisdom that remotely approaches that opening line. “What evil lurks in the hearts of men?” Yes. I don’t know what would happen if that opened up the old Mary Tyler Moore Show,—or Sesame Street. Never see it discussed on the New York Times op-ed page, no mention ever by this current crop of talk jocks. “What evil lurks?” A proposition we generally like to ignore—and when I say “we,” I don’t exclude myself, you know—I’m just as big a self-reflective son of a bitch as the next man-jack among you! (He looks toward the back of the audience.) You too, wise ass!
(He sits at the front edge of the table and dangles his legs.)
SHEPHERD (He speaks very slowly. He is weary and is speaking to himself, as though there is no audience.) We figure that somehow the shadows will go away if we just exercise some willpower. Just stand up straight all you American men, tall straight American women, tall straight pimply-faced kids from Jersey and Queens. But shadows are lurking behind every privet hedge—behind us all. If we had the guts to take a peek back maybe we’d see a giant gorilla or feel a clammy, hot, fetid breath of whatever it is behind and we’d look down into some kind of swirling vortex. There’s a moment of combined—what is it? Worry? Concern? Athlete’s foot? We go back to the football game, the tuba playing and the cheerleaders. For a brief moment there—(Though not singing, the rhythm reflects that of the song he quotes.) “that was a worrisome thing that will lead you to sing the blues in the night”—if not worse. Yeah!
(He stands and faces the table, and with considerable effort, gets back onto it in a kneeling position, back still to the audience.)
SHEPHERD (Subdued, he half sings the title of the song from the first scene.) “Blues I Love to Sing.” (He manages to stand, and turns and faces the audience, realizing that they are there.) It’s nearly over for me—and for you. Before you disperse out there into your own personal stygian darkness, listen to this. Listen. (He reaches down to his jacket on the table and pulls a small crumpled tatter of paper from the inside pocket and flattens it out, holding it up high with both arms outstretched, so he can see the audience under it. He seems to gather strength.) This is from one of my early shows—radio. (He looks at the paper and reads it slowly, no longer weary, looking down at the audience from time to time.) We’re all born butterflies. Each one of us. With these beautiful, magnificent wings ready to fly in the sunshine. For those slow barrel rolls and loops. And slowly, oh, ever so slowly, we burn those wings off—in flame. And we wind up where we are now. Me here. You there. Both of us eternally hitching, hitching a ride along the US4 of life.
(He nods his head in agreement.)
SHEPHERD He crumples the paper and tosses it away. (Crumpling the paper, he tosses it away.) Not to worry, folks, Shepherd isn’t serious—no tears now, madam. He was just joking around—just making little funnies. Cherish your illusions, folks—make ‘em work for you—what else ya got? “In hoc agricola conc” he says enigmatically.
(He raises his arms like an orchestra conductor, turns for a moment to the engineers’ window and gives a start sign, then faces the audience again.)
SHEPHERD (Speaking loudly.) Bring it up big!
(He gives the downbeat and his theme, “Bahn Frei,” comes on loud. He scats along and plays a bit of kazoo through its entire two-minute length, his arms waving, conducting energetically all the way to the triumphant, bombastic finale. He bows deeply to the audience and the spotlight fades out to darkness.)
(NOTE: I consider the above play and all other blog material posted by me to be my personal property, and as such, to be within my exclusive rights to republish at my sole discretion. I expect that there is a book in there somewhere. Stay tuned for more goodies from the world of Jean Shepherd.)
(The lights come on as SHEPHERD enters, stage left, wearing his jacket. He grabs the back of his chair and pushes, rolling it forcefully to stage right. The table no longer has the 7” reel tape boxes— but there are many more of them stacked and scattered on the floor behind and to the left and right rear of the table. He climbs onto the table, takes a small pen knife from his pants pocket, opens it, and cuts the smaller signs down, placing them on the table. As he does this, the larger sign slowly revolves, so that facing the audience are now the words, I’M AN ENTERTAINER. He turns around, notices the maroon radio, squats down and gently turns it face down onto the table, leaving the tape recorder in place. He gets off the table and, from the pile of objects on the floor, picks up and puts on a black beret. He picks up a megaphone and places it mouthpiece-up, on the table. He picks up the wood and cloth director’s chair and places it where his desk chair had been. On the back of the black cloth is stenciled in white a large star and JEAN SHEPHERD. He looks up at the ON THE AIR sign, which slowly rises out of sight. He pulls his director’s chair toward the front of the stage, still with the back with its sign facing the audience. He sits in it, straddling the back with one leg, the other leg at the front, so that by twisting his body, he faces the audience. Sometimes he does this facing stage left, sometimes stage right.)
SHEPHERD I’ll give you a word of advice—I’m beginning to produce a small booklet in my mind called “Keep Your Knees Loose—The Education of a 20th-Century Man.” I thought you’d kind of like to know how it is out there, gang. Just keep your knees loose, keep your eyes open, and—like they say in the infantry, “Give them you-know-whats a low silhouette.” That’s right—keep everything low and move slow and easy down there among the roots. That’s right—don’t—you know. I don’t have to tell you. You’ve gotten this far—you must know sumpin’.
(He laughs. He rests his forearm on the cloth back of the director’s chair as he speaks to the audience.)
SHEPHERD I’m an entertainer. I used to talk on radio—now I hate it. Smothered to death by commercials and kid fans. For god’s sakes, don’t talk to me about radio! I got better things to do. It’s mostly a medium for boobs. Think I’m kidding? Think I don’t mean it? Look me up in People magazine—I’m quoted. A very authoritative source of information. It’s where most people get their news, right? I’m a very good writer. Two dozen stories in Playboy. Best selling books. Television series, films for PBS. And of course you know my movie, A Christmas Story. Oh, come on, you know! The one where the kid almost shoots his eye out with the BB gun. The one where good old Santa kicks the kid in the face with his big black boot. Hilarious. Leigh, bring a stogie. Where’s Leigh? (Pause.) Okay, I’ll get it myself. (He pats his jacket and pulls a long cigar from the inside jacket pocket. He unwraps it and puts it in his teeth without lighting it.) As my producer and new bride, you’d think she’d learn how to do these things right. My every whim and so on.
( The phone rings and SHEPHERD rises out of the chair quickly and starts to rush for it, then slows down and casually picks it up.)
SHEPHERD (Talking into phone, cigar still in his mouth.) Shepherd here. Stories, films, TV, performing for all occasions. Have Jokes, Will Travel— Anniversaries, Weddings, Banquets our Specialty. Super Market Openings by Job Lots. Honest, Reliable, Sober, Industrious, Square-jawed. Oh hello. Listen, I know Public Television has a rarified audience, but my stuff has been exceedingly popular. Commercial television audiences are ready for me and I’m ready for them. I strike a nerve with my humor. Okay, okay, I get you. Sure. Maybe some other time. Bye. (Puts down the phone. He shifts the phone to the front of the table so that he can just reach it from the director’s chair. He pulls the cigar from his mouth and holds it, using it to punctuate what he is about to say.)
SHEPHERD (He paces stage left to stage right and back several times as he talks to the audience ) Listen, is Huckleberry Finn popular with a mass audience or not? And Huck isn’t just a kid on a raft, right? Twain had something more in mind, right? Saying something important about our society, right? Old Sam Clemens sort of like a one-man Greek Chorus? Moving back and forth—strict, realistic storytelling and then drawing back like a Greek chorus—drawing back and making a comment on what you’ve just seen. If I play any role in our society, my role is a Greek chorus. I am not a featured player, I’m not a star, I do not raise the dagger and plunge it into the heart of the enemy. I stand in the back, and once in a while after the dagger has been raised and plunged, I sing the long dirge, “Oh woe, oh woe, oh mighty, mighty woe, oh time and man. Oh revenge, thou art sweet, and oh revenge thou shall destroy all of us.” And then the chorus rises and the lights go up and again the action takes place. And this is a very necessary function. We have in our society—we have somehow been able to bypass the Greek chorus—the chorus which both explains the action to the audience and to those who have just acted. This is what the Greek chorus always did. It provided an interesting frame to what was going on. Not only an interesting frame, it provided a focal point to it.
(SHEPHERD looks at the cigar in his hand as though wondering what it is doing there, and flings it away, picks up the megaphone from the table and puts it to his mouth.)
SHEPHERD (Turning slowly a full 360 degrees, megaphone held to his mouth at a high angle.) Okay, break’s over. Leigh, baby, wrangle everyone over this way. Good! What would I do without you? Maybe we can get you into this next scene as an extra. Would ya like that? Let’s get the show on the road, people. See if you can get it right.
(SHEPHERD sits in the director’s chair again so he is facing the audience. Pause.)
SHEPHERD (Yelling into the megaphone.) Cut! Cut! Not the way I wrote it. Leigh, show it to them in the script. (He sets the megaphone on the floor and talks to the audience.) Am I the only one who knows what the hell he’s doing here?
SHEPHERD (The phone rings and he stretches from the chair, picks up the phone, answering it a little more quickly than the last time. As he listens for about 15 seconds, he stands up and begins pacing, then holds the phone about a foot from his mouth and yells into it) You’re not the only network in town! F**k you!
(He slams down the phone and paces up and down, stage left to stage right and back several times as he talks to the audience )
SHEPHERD Have you seen my stuff? Have you seen Jean Shepherd’s America? Breaks the standard TV format. Each episode different, and I narrate all of them. I know how to do it. I take chances. Like a music improvisation. Who else has the balls to do that with television? You never know what’s going to happen. Im-pro-vi-sa-tion. It’s dynamic. Like America itself. “On the Road with Shep.” Jackson Pollock. It’s Mingus. You know what I’m creating? It’s the great American TV documentary. America in a couple hundred half hour mosaic fragments. This PBS series is going to outlast Sesame Street. Look, I don’t expect the shitheads who watch commercial TV to understand it or get past the first five minutes. We’re peddling other stuff to commercial television. Do you remember the stories of my kid-hood? Remember them from Playboy? Remember them from my best-selling novels? I did them first on radio. Remember how I would talk and it would just pour out of me and I’d be really moving with it? Out of nowhere weaving filaments of gold! Hairs on the back of my neck standing up. We’re combining some of them into TV films, ninety minutes each, and I appear from time to time and I’m narrating. My style—makes it really personal, like I’m really telling the story just to each of you—get it? It’s what I always did on…. (He turns his back to the audience.) Hairs on the back of my neck. Shit. (Pause.) No.
(He goes back to the table and picks up the phone and dials, standing, leaning with one hand on the table.)
SHEPHERD Shepherd here. Yeah, get him on the phone if he’s still my agent. Hello, Charlie, Shep here. How’s it goin’? Damn, these commercial network guys don’t know what they’re doing. They steal my stuff but they won’t give me the chance to do my own stuff on my own show. You see The Wonder Years last night?
THE WONDER YEARS
Paul, Kevin, and Winnie
Now they’re not only stealing my techniques, they’ve stolen my plot lines! Don’t the f**kers know I can write my stuff better than they can pirate it? Don’t give up. Keep working on them. Thanks. Bye. (He slowly hangs up the phone.)
(He looks up at the audience and walks to center stage front. He points at the audience, swinging his arm back and forth to encompass everybody.)
SHEPHERD Only in America! Only in America could you people get it so wrong. Listen. Understand what I’m telling you. Do you realize who I am and what you are? I’m your Mark Twain, maybe some of your Walt Whitman and you’re America—each one of you. (Exasperated.) You don’t get it do you? (Bends over stage, hands on hips.) Fools, fatheads! I’m not a comic with funny lines. ‘Eisenhower ha ha! ‘Reagan’ ha ha! You laugh now and you forget what they say before you leave the theater or change the channel. I’m telling you about yourself—us! I’m giving you back to yourselves—all your diversity, your silliness, your foibles. How can you watch the crap you watch and not watch me? You don’t deserve me, that’s the problem, but what choice do I have? I’m stuck with you and you’re stuck with me—I’m your Will Rogers, your—. I’ll go down in history. (Pause. He straightens up and turns his back abruptly on the audience) Ignore me at your peril, damn fools!! (Pause.) Do I have to rely on campus gigs for a bunch of pimply-faced kids from Jersey to make a living? (Pause. He quiets down almost to a whisper.) Leigh baby. Silver threads among the gold. Bring me a drink. A stiff one.
(He stands still for a count of ten. His shoulders slump and remain so for a slightly shorter time. He straightens up and glares at the audience. He walks defiantly back and forth across stage front, looking down at the audience as he speaks.)
SHEPHERD I’m big! I’m big in every goddamn medium you can name. I’m a best seller. My name on books! My name in TV. My name on top of the credits in goddamn movies for Christsakes! The silver screen, people! And the theater. My A Christmas Story is a theater piece across the country and my name—my name is on the marquee of this goddamn theater you’re sitting in right now, isn’t it?! You’ve paid good money to sit down there and look up at me, Jean Parker Shepherd—here—up here on stage. Who the hell are you down there? I’m up here. Up in the limelight! The limelight.
(He yanks at the director’s chair and sits in it, back to the audience.)
SHEPHERD (Yelling at the audience but facing away.) Excelsior, you assholes! (The lights dim out. While the lights are out, he softly sings the first few lines of the song, “After You’re Gone.”) After you’ve gone, and left me crying. After you’ve gone, there’s no denying, I’ll feel blue, you will too….” Leigh baby. Leigh.